The treasurer said commissioners need a long-range plan for airport funding.
By BOB JACKSON
VINDICATOR COURTHOUSE REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Mahoning County Auditor George Tablack says county commissioners should continue funding the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport but find money outside the general fund to do it.
The Youngstown Air Reserve Station, which operates at the airport in Vienna Township, is a vital part of the county's economy and commissioners should strive to protect it, Tablack said.
He also suggested that commissioners not rush into a quick decision for funding the airport this year, but instead back off and develop a long-range funding plan that does not involve general fund money.
Tablack said that would help stabilize airport operations and end the cycle of commissioners constantly debating whether -- and how -- to fund the facility.
Too much time spent?
"Honestly, I'm exhausted with this political football," Tablack said. He said commissioners have been forced to spend too much time debating airport funding, which accounts for a tiny fraction of the county's overall general fund spending. That keeps them from other, more pressing budget problems, he said.
Mahoning and Trumbull counties share the cost of operating the airport, which is in Trumbull County. Each county appoints members to the Western Reserve Port Authority, which operates the airport, and each has historically contributed money yearly to help with operating costs.
Commissioners have expressed concern that the federal government, which is looking to cut costs, might shut down the air base if the airport does not receive local support.
A vote two weeks ago to match Trumbull County's $185,000 contribution for this year ended in a deadlock, with Commissioner Ed Reese voting in favor and Commissioner David Ludt against it. Commissioner Vicki Allen Sherlock was not there to break the tie.
Reese said he intends to put the matter back on the agenda for commissioners' meeting Thursday, but has reduced the amount to $62,000, which is one-third of the full amount.
Suggested a delay
Tablack suggested holding off on a vote until June 30, by which time commissioners should have a long-range plan in place for presentation to the port authority. He said the constant uncertainty over finances is unfair to port authority members, who serve as volunteers.
Reese agreed that a long-term plan is needed, but said the port authority has an immediate need for cash to pay the bills.
"I'm going to present it Thursday," Reese said. "If my colleagues vote it down, then I'd like to see their plan."
Sherlock said before she votes, she wanted Tablack's opinion on whether the county can afford the expenditure, given its bleak financial picture. She and Ludt support waiting.
Elizabeth Sublette, budget director, said if spending continues at its current pace, the county will have a $3.5 million shortfall by the end of the year.
"Without additional revenue sources, it will be much worse next year," Sublette said.
Sherlock said commissioners already have contacted the Youngstown/Mahoning County Convention & amp; Visitors Bureau about providing some airport funding. The bureau gets its operating revenue from a bed tax, which is imposed by commissioners. Sherlock said commissioners are to meet with the bureau next week.
Tablack said commissioners should look for ways to "squeeze" the airport's budget by wringing out unnecessary costs and possibly asking Trumbull County to provide in-kind services such as security and plowing runways.